Eunice Kirwa of Bahrain and Callum Hawkins of Great Britain notched convincing victories at the 71st edition of the Kagawa-Marugame Half Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Sunday (5).
Kirwa, the pre-race favourite, clocked 1:08:07 to win by 20 seconds while Hawkins clocked 1:00:00 to win by nearly a minute.
Kirwa successfully defends
With Shalane Flanagan’s late hour withdrawal, Olympic silver medallist and defending champion Kirwa started as the overwhelming favourite. She pushed the pace aggressively from the start, opening with a 15:35 first five-kilometre split, three seconds faster than Florence Kiplagat’s opening stretch in her 1:05:09 world record run, to build a 30-second lead over Amy Cragg of the US, who was running a distant second.
But she didn’t maintain that pace very long, nor did she have to. She reached the 10-kilometre mark in 31:37, 44 seconds ahead of Cragg. She slowed further, taking 16:21 between kilometres 10 and 15, at which point Cragg began to slightly chip away at the lead, cutting the margin to 32 seconds at 15 kilometres and to 26 at 20.
But Kirwa was never threatened in her pursuit to follow 2012 Olympic marathon champion Tiki Gelana, who won in Marugame in 2012 and 2013, as a back-to-back winner. Kirwa's 1:08:07 performance was just one second slower than her winning run last year, and the third fastest in 2017.
Kirwa will return to Japan to run the Nagoya Women’s Marathon in March where she’ll be targeting a third successive victory.
Cragg finished second in 1:08:27, lopping 1:23 from her previous lifetime best. Riko Matsuzaki was a distant third, clocking 1:11:04.
Hawkins threatens one-hour barrier
Hawkins was even more dominant in the men’s race but, unlike Kirwa, chose to begin in a much more cautious fashion.
Abraham Kipyatich led a large group through the first five kilometres in 14:20 and through 10 in 28:28. The pack included Hawkins, Ethiopian Atsedu Tsegaye, Joel Mwaura and the Japanese trio of Daichi Kamino, Suguru Osako, and Yuta Shitara – national 10,000m record-holder Kota Murayama fell back early – who were mounting an assault on the 1:00:25 national record. Of the latter three, Shitara was the first to fall back a few kilometres later.
At about 13 kilometres, the pack began to break up, with Hawkins and Kipyatich taking to the front. Hawkins made his move soon after the pair reached 15 kilometres in 42:37, and began to pull away for good. By 20 kilometres he was more than 50 seconds ahead of Kipyatich who in turn had a gap of a few seconds on the chase pack that included Tsegaye, Kamino and Mwaura, a Kenyan attending high school in Japan.
The 24-year-old Briton stopped the clock at 60 minutes even, just missing out on becoming the fourth runner to crack the one-hour barrier in this race after Mekubo Mogusu, Paul Kuira and Zane Robertson. His performance elevated him to second on the UK all-time list behind Mo Farah.
"I am happy with my time, but at the same time I am disappointed because I came so close to breaking 60 minutes," said Hawkins, who was ninth in the Olympic marathon last August.
Tsegaye made up ground in the waning stages to finish second in 1:00:58, his best performance since 2013, with Mwaura third in 1:00:59. Kipyatich finished fourth in 1:01:00.
In the race for Japanese top honours, Osako was the first to make a move. Kamino covered it and answered with one of his own to pull away and eventually finish fifth in 1:01:04 but more than 30 seconds shy of the national record. Osako was next across the line in 1:01:13. Both were personal bests.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1 Callum Hawkins (GBR) 1:00:00
(14:21, 28:28 (14:07), 42:37 (14:09), 56:55 (14:18))
2 Atsedu Tsegaye (ETH) 1:00:58
3 Joel Mwaura (KEN) 1:00:59
4 Abraham Kipyatich (KEN) 1:01:00
5 Daichi Kamino (JPN) 1:01:04
6 Suguru Osako (JPN) 1:01:13
7 Yuta Shitara (JPN) 1:01:19
8 Kenneth Kipkemoi (KEN) 1:01:27
9 Kazuki Tamura (JPN) 1:01:56
10 Jonathan Ndiku (KEN) 1:02:07
1 Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa (BRN) 1:08:07
(15:35, 31:37 (16:02), 47:58 (16:21), 64:34 (16:36))
2 Amy Cragg (USA) 1:08:27
3 Riko Matsuzaki (JPN) 1:11:04
4 Miho Shimizu (JPN) 1:11:07
5 Chikako Mori (JPN) 1:11:40
6 Eri Hayakawa (JPN) 1:11:43
7 Eloise Wellings (AUS) 1:12:30